Saturday, January 29, 2005

Albert Spalding alert

19th Century sky-is-falling baseball magnate occupies the soul of yet another MLB owner; also, Sosa apparently going to O's

Okay, pop quiz, hot shot. One of these quotations is from early professional baseball owner Albert Spalding in 1881, and the other is from a few days ago by current Pittsburgh Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy. Which one is McClatchy's?

A) ``What you don't want to see is some of these teams spend themselves into bankruptcy -- that's not good for any of the league, that becomes a liability on all of us. I'm not sure if some of these people are writing checks with money they necessarily have, and that's a negative thing."

B) "Professional baseball is on the wane. Salaries must come down or the interest of the public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not happen, bankruptcy stares every team in the

The correct answer---as if you couldn't tell merely based on the less articulate nature of today's rhetoric---is A). I would have also accepted C) What does it matter? They're the same quotation, and this is only the 17,652nd time a baseball owner has predicted utter doom.

Adub, whose substance-to-word ratio is among the most impressive among the Nats bloggers, nails McClatchy's position with one word: "whine." Also check out the Baseball Primer discussion on the article, which includes a reference to Baseball Prospectus columnist Joe Sheehan's ultimate MLB Labor Wars insult, economically illiterate *****. By the way, Mr. McClatchy: Next time, make sure your top position player prospect doesn't get turned into an injured pitcher. Just a thought, but it might help matters.

The (Baltimore) Orioles are, if you trust the sources, pretty darned close to landing Sammy Sosa, in a deal that would send second baseman/outfielder Jerry Hairston and a couple of prospects to Chicago.

I first learned of this story in the car radio on the way back from a friend's house late last night (which reminds me---I'm not a Will Ferrell fan per se, but I do recommend "Anchorman," if only for the mangling of the English language and the rather dull mind of the weatherman). Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune was on ESPN Radio, and he seemed to indicate it was a steal for the Orioles. This posture, I believe, is mandated by the Chicago Sports Writers Guild (Jay "Poopy Pants" Mariotti, Grand Poobah). Rogers had a couple of other things to say, including that it was originally Hairston + four prospects going to the Cubs, Dusty Baker refuses to manage a team with Sosa on it, and Sosa is not really a clubhouse cancer because "everyone knows he's a jerk" and as such does not have the gravitas necessary to divide a clubhouse.

The financial terms have not been ironed out, I believe; however, as I understand it, the Cubs will pick up $10 million of Sosa's $17 million salary for 2005, and Sosa has agreed to void his 2006 option---which is a Very Good Thing from the O's perspective, since his refusal to do so would result in a Spicy Meatball Contract (for one thing, $18 million in 2006). Ken Rosenthal, among others, is reporting generally the same thing. The trade is conditioned upon Sosa passing a physical and Emperor Selig approving it.

I think the trade is germane to a Nats blog, if for the simple reason that Sosa going to the O's means Sosa won't be going to the Nats. So I'll discuss it:

Perceived selfishness, corked-bat, and alleged steroid issues aside, Sosa is in the midst of a precipitous decline. Even omitting his beyond-this-galaxy 2001 season, Sosa has lost about 50 points of OBP and 120 points of SLG from his 1998-2002 other-worldly peak. He's steadily moving back toward his marginal-free-swinging-power-hitter status of 1993-97.

Essentially, this trade comes down to three things: 1) Was 2004 just a bad season for Sosa, and he's actually closer to his 2003 performance? 2) Was 2004 just a bad season for Jay Gibbons, and he's actually closer to his 2003 performance? 3) Who else do the Cubs get in the deal?

Obviously, it was a terrible year for Gibbons, who missed a lot of time with a hip flexor injury that became easily aggravated. He made it off the DL in August, looked completely lost for awhile, then salvaged something of the season in the last few weeks of the season. Make no mistake, even a bad 2004 Sosa is a better offensive player than a healthy 2002-03 Gibbons, but the difference isn't that great.

I'll admit a bias here: I am a huge fan of Gibbons. He's a wonderful story, a guy not blessed with tremendous athleticism who just consistently hit in the Blue Jays' system but was blocked anyway; saved by Syd Thrift in one of Thrift's few good moves with the O's, Gibbons is one of the best Rule V draft picks of recent memory. He's no all-star, and he has his weakness (his OBP is substandard, for one), but he's a decent complementary player for a decent price. (He's starting to make some money now, though, so his days as a bargain are on the wane.)

Nevertheless, $7 million for one year for Sosa (if those indeed are the terms and payout) is not bad. I'll conditionally agree with Adub that this is Albert Belle Redone, but only if you consider Belle's first season in Baltimore. (This is the distinguishing feature here---the O's commitment to Sosa apparently will stretch only one year.) The Orioles need a corner outfielder who can pound, and---as long as the decline is checked in 2005, and I suspect it might be---there you go.

Now, what else do the O's give up? Hairston's a decent little player, aside from being unusually injury-prone; but his trade value didn't help net Tim Hudson earlier and he is rather blocked out of a full-time job in Baltimore. He turned the corner a bit last year, getting on base well and demonstrating he can be useful in a variety of defensive contexts. I do wonder who the minor leaguers will be. Baltimore's system has pitching, and Beatagan the GM Combo has been willing to deal it for crud before; see the Jason Grimsley-for-Denny Bautista trade as an example. As for position players, aside from a couple of guys, there probably won't be muchvalue given there. [Late note: I heard on Fox Sports Radio that Jorge Julio indeed might be included in the deal. The O's are down on Julio, and he is erratic, but he's a capable enough short reliever.]

In sum, I don't see this as a clear win for the Orioles, as Rogers does. In fact, if the O's give away too much of their organizational depth, it strikes me as a little pointless. But this isn't a horrible trade for the Orioles, subject to the Orioles not being stuck with much of a commitment. Undergirding this entire analysis, however, is the fact that Sosa will not be going to Washington. Make no mistake, Jim Bowden doesn't need to do this trade.

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